Category Archives: Franz Pieper

What Does It Mean to Preach Christ?

What does it mean to “preach Christ”? Some believe that Christ is preached when presented as a model in a holy manner of life and in good works; the sum of Christian doctrine is proclaimed when people are told, “Walk in the way that Christ has walked, then you come to heaven.” But to preach Christ is to say something entirely different. To preach Christ is to teach and to inculcate that salvation in Him alone and in such a way that human works are not considered. Paul preaches Christ in this way. He says: “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”[1] And he calls out a warning to the Galatians: “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.”[2] Thus one only preaches Christ who teaches that we are justified and saved by grace for Christ’s sake through faith, and that salvation is not placed in a thousandth part on the works of man, nor on the works through which we follow Christ. As soon as someone teaches that one attains salvation through his own works, Christ is no longer preached but denied and blasphemed. Luther comes to this point when he defends his translation of Romans 3:28 against the upset Papists. He says: “Are we to deny Paul’s word on account of such ‘offense,’ or stop speaking out freely about faith? Land, St. Paul and I want to give such offense; we preach so strongly against works and insist on faith alone, for no other reason than that the people may be offended, stumble, and fall, in order that they may learn to know that they are not saved by their good works but only by Christ’s death and resurrection… What a fine, constructive, and inoffensive doctrine that would be, if people were taught that they could be saved by works, as well as faith! That would be as much as to say that it is not Christ’s death alone that takes away our sins, but that our works too have something to do with it. That would be a fine honoring of Christ’s death, to say that it is helped by our works, and that whatever it does our works can do too—so that we are his equal in strength and goodness! This is the very devil; he can never quit abusing the blood of Christ.” (“On Translating: An Open Letter”, Luther’s Works 35:196-197)

Franz Pieper, “The Practical Importance of the Proper Distinction of Law and Gospel”, 1895 Kansas District Convention Address

[1] Romans 3:28.
[2] Galatians 5:4.

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Who Is A Christian?

Who is a Christian? Rationalists describe a Christian like this: A Christian is a man who strives to be virtuous, to live according to his reason, or to live honestly according to the rules of “the great virtuous teacher”. A papist, upon questioning, would define a Christian as follows: A Christian is a man who submits himself to the Pope’s rule and who conforms himself to ecclesiastical arrangement. And there might well be among Lutherans here and there those who describe a Christian this way: A Christian is a man who goes to Church, and from time to time to the sacrament, pays his contributions, and is concerned with an honest manner of life before the world. — These are, however, descriptions which are partly quite false, partly do not give a clearly visible essence of a Christian. We say on the basis of Scripture: A Christian is a man who is convinced through the working of the Holy Spirit of two things: 1. of the fact that he is a sinner worthy of condemnation before God, and 2. of the fact that God forgives all his sins for Christ’s sake; i.e., a Christian is a man who knows to distinguish Law and Gospel. He lets the Law come into play; he lets his sin be revealed by the Law. He does not say: There is no serious intent with the demands and threats of the Law. No, he leaves the demands of the Law as they are. He admits not only with words, but also in his heart: I am a sinner worthy of condemnation. Through the law comes to him knowledge of his sin and worthiness of condemnation. But he lets the Law remain in this area. The question of how he is saved can only be answered by the Gospel. He believes that God absolves him in the Gospel of the sins He has revealed to him by the Law. He recognizes the Law as the Word of God; but he also knows that God has yet another word, the Gospel, and that all poor sinners should hear this other Word and from it gain the confidence that their sins are forgiven them. Thus a Christian is a man who lets both Law and Gospel take effect in themselves, but also knows how to separate both of them. Where this does not happen, then there is also no Christianity.

Franz Pieper, “The Practical Importance of the Proper Distinction of Law and Gospel”, 1895 Kansas District Convention Address

Theology as Habitus Practicus Theosdotos

Recent theology distinguishes between theology and the Church’s proclamation of salvation. The latter is supposed to present the Christian doctrines in so far as they are to be received by the Christian congregation through faith; theology on the other hand is said to have the function of “scientifically mediating” the congregation’s faith to the thinking intellect. For this reason also recent theology abandons its “direct relation to salvation”. The old Lutheran definition which consistently held to this relation is said to rest upon a confusion of “theology” with “the Church’s proclamation of salvation.”

Over against this Walther held with the old Lutheran theologians that theology is a habitus practicus theosdotos. In Lehre und Wehre Vol.14, p.4ff., he published a lengthy article entitled: “What is Theology? A contribution to the Prolegomena of Dogmatics”, in which he begins with the following thesis: “Theology is the practical habitude, wrought by the Holy Ghost and drawn from the Word of God by means of prayer, study, and trial, vitally to know and to impart the truth revealed in the written Word of God unto salvation, to establish it therefrom, to expound, apply and defend it, in order to lead sinful man through faith in Christ unto eternal salvation.”

Of this definition, Walther then proves that it is both Scriptural and also that given by most Lutheran teachers.

On the objective and subjective concepts of theology, or of theology conceived as teaching and as habitus of the theologian, Walther prefaces the following:

“Christian theology can be regarded in several ways, either subjectively, as something inhering in the soul of a man or objectively, as teaching which is presented orally or in writing. In the first case it is regarded absolutely, as it is in itself, apart from what may be done with it; in the other case it is regarded relatively, as it is in a certain respect, in accordance with a certain accidental characteristic with respect to a use which may be made of it. In the first case Christian theology is taken in its primary and proper, in the second case in its secondary and improper significance. Since theology must first be in the soul of a man before it can be taught by him or presented either orally or in writing, and since everything connected with theology must be judged in accordance with what it is in itself and in its essence, therefore in the thesis, according to the example of most dogmaticians in our church, the definition of theology regarded subjectively or concretely, i.e. as it inheres in a concretum or in a person, is given precedence.” (Lehre und Wehre, 14, 8 f.)

Theology, subjectively regarded, is to Walther “not the sum total of certain intellectual acquisitions”, but a habitude, a sufficiency or skill to perform certain functions. “The Holy Scripture”, says he (l.c., p.10), “although the word theology does not occur in it, itself specifies this as the category to which theology belongs. For since theology, subjectively considered, is what should be in those who are to administer the office of teachers in the church, we may therefore seek and recognize in the Biblical description of a teacher also a description of a true theologian.”

Walther refers to Hebr.5:12-14; II Cor. 3:5; II Tim 3:17. With regard to II Cor.3:5 he remarks: “In this passage the Apostle, after he has exclaimed in 2:16 with regard to his teaching office: ‘Who is sufficient for these things?’ writes as follows: ‘Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.’ So that which in Heb. 5:14 is called a skill, (habitus, A.V.: ‘use’) is here called sufficiency. Now sufficiency implies not only a certain competence and skill by the observance of certain rules to produce a certain effect, but also at the same time a disposition of the soul, thus a habitude.”

Walther lays special emphasis on the fact that theology is altogether practical, that it is not concerned with satisfying the thirst for knowledge but with leading sinners to salvation. Theology is for him not a “theoretical habitude”, ” which has knowledge itself for its goal and therewith rests content (l.c., p. 73) but a “practical habitude.”

“It is the latter,” he writes (l.c., p. 72) “for the reason that its purpose is a practical one. St. Paul indicates wherein the purpose of theology consists when he writes, Titus 1:1,2: ‘Paul, a servant of God., and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness in hope of eternal life.’ Herewith the apostle obviously indicates the purpose of his offices namely that he has received it in view of the faith of the elect and the acknowledging of the truth unto Godliness and all of this in hope of eternal life. But the purpose of the office is also the purpose of theology. This purpose therefore is the true faith, the knowledge of the truth unto godliness and finally eternal life. See Rom.1:3 in connection with I Tim. 4: 3-6.”

Franz Pieper, “C.F. W. Walther as Theologian”.

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Luther on True Perfection

I’m a simul justus et peccator guy to the end. I know I’ll never be perfect. I cling to Christ and His righteousness. I am weak on sanctification. I do not, however, deny that I quit striving after perfection in the way Saint Paul describes in Philippians chapter three: “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Franz Pieper says it best in Volume Three of “Christian Dogmatics”: “But the truth of the imperfection of sanctification in this life is not an excuse for laziness in sanctification and good works. Instead, God’s will and the corresponding Christian attitude to it seeks to ascertain that the Christian strives after not merely a partial, but a complete sanctification and not just some, but all good works.” (page 33 English Translation, page 38 German original. I’ve translated the German original here.)

With this teaching and these examples Christ now concludes [Matthew chapter five]: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Here our sophists have spun out many dreams about perfection and have applied them all to their orders and classes—as if only priests and monks were in a state of perfection, the one higher than the other, the bishops higher than all the others, and the pope the highest of all. By this means the word “perfection” becomes completely inapplicable to the ordinary Christian way of life, as if such people could not be called perfect or be perfect. But you hear Christ talking here not to bishops, monks, and nuns, but in general to all Christians who are His pupils, who want to be called the sons of God, and who do not want to be like the publicans and criminals as are the Pharisees and our clergy.

How does it come about that they are perfect? The answer—in brief, because elsewhere I have discussed it in more detail —is this: We cannot be or become perfect in the sense that we do not have any sin, the way they dream about perfection. Here and everywhere in Scripture “to be perfect” means, in the first place, that doctrine be completely correct and perfect, and then, that life move and be regulated according to it. Here, for example, the doctrine is that we should love not only those who do us good, but our enemies, too. Now, whoever teaches this and lives according to this teaching, teaches and lives perfectly.

But the teaching and the life of the Jews were both imperfect and wrong, because they taught that they should love only their friends, and they lived accordingly. Such a love is chopped up and divided, it is only half a love. What He wants is an entire, whole, and undivided love, where one loves and helps his enemy as well as his friend. So I am called a truly perfect man, one who has and holds the doctrine in its entirety. Now, if my life does not measure up to this in every detail—as indeed it cannot, since flesh and blood incessantly hold it back—that does not detract from the perfection. Only we must keep striving for it, and moving and progressing [My note: Luther uses here fortfahre – “continue”. “Progress” would be fortschritte machen] toward it every day. This happens when the spirit is master over the flesh, holding it in cheek, subduing and restraining it, in order not to give it room to act contrary to this teaching. It happens when I let love move along on the true middle course, treating everyone alike and excluding no one. Then I have true Christian perfection, which is not restricted to special offices or stations, but is common to all Christians, and should be. It forms and fashions itself according to the example of the heavenly Father. He does not split or chop up His love and kindness, but by means of the sun and the rain He lets all men on earth enjoy them alike, none excluded, be he pious or wicked.

Luther’s Works Volume 21, pages 128-129

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Martin Luther via Franz Pieper on A Righteous Man Sins in All His Good Works

A righteous man sins in all his good works.

This article annoys the great saints of work-righteousness, who place their trust not in God’s mercy, but in their own righteousness, that is, on sand. What happened to the house built on sand in Matt. 7[:26] will also happen to them. But a godly Christian ought to learn and know that all his good works are inadequate and insufficient in the sight of God. In the company of all the dear saints he ought to despair of his own works and rely solely on the mercy of God, putting all confidence and trust in him. Therefore we want to establish this article very firmly and see what the dear saints have to say about it.

Isaiah 64[:6] says, “We are all of us unclean, and all our righteousness is as a filthy stinking rag.” You notice that the prophet makes no exceptions. He says, “We are all of us unclean,” yet he himself was a holy prophet. Again, if our righteousness is unclean and stinking before God, what will our unrighteousness be? Moreover, he says “all righteousness,” making no exception. Now, if there is such a thing as a good work without sin, this prophet lies, which God forbid! Is not this passage from Isaiah sufficiently clear? Why then do they condemn my article, which says nothing but what Isaiah says? But we are glad to be condemned along with this holy prophet.

Again, Solomon says in Eccles. 7[:20], “There is no man on earth so righteous that he does good and sins not.” I trust this passage is clear enough, and it corresponds with my article almost word for word. And now, since Solomon is here condemned, look, his father David must also be condemned. He says in Ps. 143[:2], “Lord, enter not into judgment with me, thy servant, for no man living is righteous before thee.” Now, who is God’s servant but the man who does good works? How, then, does it happen that this very man cannot face God’s judgment? Surely God’s judgment is not unjust. If a work were actually altogether good and without sin, it would not flee God’s just judgment. The defect, then, must of necessity be in the work, which is not pure. It is for this reason that no man living is justified in God’s sight and all men need his mercy, even in their good works. Here you papists have an opportunity to show your learning—not merely by inventing bulls, but by answering such passages of Scripture.

Back in the first two articles I have shown that all the saints struggle against their sinful flesh, and continue to be sinners as long as they live in the flesh which is at war with the spirit. At one and the same time, they serve God according to the spirit, and sin according to the flesh. If, then, a godly man is at the same time justified by reason of the spirit, and sinful by reason of the flesh, his work must certainly be like the person, the fruit like the tree. In so far as the spirit participates in the work, it is good; in so far as the flesh participates in it, it is evil….

But if they say here, as they always do, “Yes, but this impurity is not sin but rather an imperfection, or weakness, or defect,” my reply is that it is indeed a defect and a weakness, but if that is not sin I am prepared to say that murder and adultery are not sins either but only defects and weaknesses. Who has given you papists the power to twist God’s Word and to call the impurity of a good work weakness and not sin? Where is there a single letter of Scripture supporting your side? Must we believe your nightmares, unsubstantiated by Scripture, when you refuse to believe our clear texts?…

If, then, David says that even God’s servants cannot face his judgment and no man living is justified in his sight, then this weakness must certainly be sin, and he who will not allow that any living man is justified in his sight includes most certainly also those who walk in good works. Unless, of course, they are neither “men” nor “living.”

Augustine says in his Confessions IX, “Woe unto every human life, even the most praiseworthy, were it to be judged without mercy.” Look how this great heretic, St. Augustine, speaks brazenly and sacrilegiously against this holy bull. Not only does he attribute sin to a good life, but he condemns even the very best life, which doubtlessly abounds in good works, as though it were nothing but mortal sin, if judged without mercy. O, St. Augustine, are you not afraid of the most holy father pope?

St. Gregory, too, speaks of that holy man Job and says, quoting Job 9[:8], “Job, that holy man, saw that all our good works are nothing but sin, if God should judge them. Therefore he said, ‘If one wished to contend with God, one could not answer him once in a thousand times.’ ” Gregory, how can you say this? How dare you say that all our good works are nothing but sin? Now you are under the pope’s ban, and a heretic far worse than Luther. For he only says that there is sin in all good works; you make them out to be nothing but sin.

If these passages do not help to substantiate my article, then may God help it! I would much rather be condemned with Isaiah, David, Solomon, Paul, Augustine, and Gregory, than praised with the pope and all the bishops and papists, even though all the world were made up of pope, bishops, and papists. Blessed is he who should die for this cause!

LW 32:83-86 (from “Defense and Explanation of All The Articles”, 1521). Quoted in Franz Pieper, “Christian Dogmatics”, 3:35-37

Martin Luther on How Sanctification Looks This Side of Paradise

This extended quote from an untranslated sermon (to the best of my knowledge) of Blessed Martin Luther is prefaced in Pieper’s Dogmatics by these words of Blessed Franz Pieper: “We quote at some length – and we are sure that the student of dogmatics will welcome it – from Luther’s sermon ‘Of Our Blessed Hope’ on Titus 2:13”. I welcome it, too, Dr. Pieper.

We did not learn in the Papacy what constitutes a good work. Before the Gospel came, we were told that the works which we ourselves devised and chose were good works, such as making a pilgrimage to St. James or some other place, giving money to the monks in the cloisters for the reading of many Masses, burning candles, fasting with but bread and water, praying a certain number of rosaries, etc. But now that the Gospel is come, we preach thus: Good works are not those which we choose of ourselves, but those which God has commanded, those which our vocation calls for. A servant does good works when he fears God, believes in Christ, and obeys his master. First he is justified by faith in Christ, then he walks in faith, leads a godly life, is temperate and well-behaved, serves his neighbor, cleanses the stable, feeds the horses, etc. In performing such tasks he does better works than any Carthusian monk. For since he is baptized, believes in Christ, and in assured hope is waiting for eternal life, he goes on and obeys his master and knows that what he does in his calling pleases God. Therefore everything that he does in his occupation is a good and precious work. It does not look like a great, fine work when he rides out on the field, drives to the mill, etc., but since he has God’s command and directive for it, such works, mean as they seem, are nothing else than good works and a service rendered to the Lord. In like manner also a maidservant does good works when she performs her calling in faith, obeys her mistress, sweeps the house, washes and cooks in the kitchen, etc. Though these works are not as glamorous as the works of the Carthusian who hides behind a mask and has people gaping at him, still such works are much better and more precious before God than those of the Carthusian who wears a hair shirt, keeps his vigils, gets up at night and chants for five hours, eats no meat, etc. He does them without God’s command and order; how, then, can they please God? Likewise when a burgher or a farmer helps his neighbor, warns him of the danger threatening his body, wife, child, servant, cattle, and goods, etc., such works do not make a great show, but they are nevertheless good and precious works. When the civil government punishes the wicked and protects the virtuous, and when citizens yield obedience to the government and do so from faith and the hope of eternal life, they are performing good works, though they do not shine and glitter in the sight of reason. . . .

If you ask reason, the works of a servant, a maid, a master, a mistress, a mayor, and a judge are common, lowly works compared with the Carthusian’s keeping his vigil, fasting, praying, abstaining from meat; but if you ask God’s Word, the works of all Carthusians and all monks, melted together in one mass, are not as good as the work of a single poor servantmaid, who by Baptism has been brought into the kingdom of God, believes in Christ, and in faith is looking for the blessed hope. These two articles St. Paul would keep alive among Christians: the knowledge of Jesus Christ our Savior, who has called us by Baptism and the Gospel as heirs of eternal life, waiting for that blessed hope and the glorious appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the knowledge that everything we do in our Christian calling and station by faith is altogether a good and precious work; on which account we should be zealous unto good works; . . . Now, therefore, since we have heard what blessed hope we should look for, we should also learn that the works which we do by faith in our appointed calling according to God’s command and order are good works. Though such works do not glitter in the sight of reason, they are nevertheless precious before God, while the Carthusian and the monk cannot see and understand these things. For example, I am a preacher; that is my office; if now I believe in Christ and look for the blessed hope and then go and tend to my preaching and perform my calling, even though men hold my office in low esteem, I would not trade my office for all the works that all the monks and nuns do in the cloister. — Likewise also that wife is a living saint who believes in Christ, looks for the blessed hope and appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ and in such a faith goes and does what belongs to the calling of a wife. — As reason knows nothing of the blessed hope of eternal life, so, too, it does not understand what constitutes truly good works. It reasons thus: This maid milks the cow, this farmer plows the field, they are performing common, lowly works, which also the heathen perform; how, then, can they be good works? But this man becomes a monk, this woman a nun, they look sour, put on a cowl, wear a rough garment: these are exceptional works, they are not performed by the common people; therefore they must be good. Thus reason argues. Thus reason leads us away from the true knowledge of both the blessed hope and the good works.

– St. Louis Edition, IX:952ff.

God and the Public School

Concerning this, there is this:

It has also been referred this to us as un-American, that we are not satisfied with public schools, but build and maintain our own schools alongside them, namely congregational schools. Even German political newspapers have kept their eyes on us during the recently conducted “school struggle”, in which the “state” was actually asked to prohibit the establishing and maintaining of church schools alongside the state schools, on the grounds that church schools are dangerous to the welfare of the state. These remarks first came from the radical unbelieving side and therefore have not particularly astonished us. The hatred against Christianity proved to be stronger than a certain amount of love for the German language. But not only the spokesmen for professional unbelief demanded the suppression of congregational schools. Ecclesiastical sectarian papers designated them “as contradictory to the institutions of the country” and entered the fierce struggle against our schools. This must appear strange in the highest degree to all sober Christians.

We are an anomaly here in America, for which we scarcely find an example in other countries. Wherever the Christian Church is also merely a small force, there it also presses for Christian schools. Everywhere you can see where there is still a somewhat Christian understanding that the Christian school belongs to the Christian church. If Christian missions wish to assert themselves and gain a foothold in a country, then they set their attention from the outset on the establishing and maintaining of Christian schools. Americans missions are no exception. They maintain in Africa, Asia, and wherever they work especially the Christian school with particular zeal.

But things are different in America itself. Although the Christian Church is a power in this country, yes, although there is almost no country on Earth where the Christian Church exerts such an influence on public life as in the United States of America, we believe that we are still faced with the astonishing fact that the vast majority of Protestant Christians have no religious schools and will know nothing of Christian Schools. Even the greatest number of sectarian fellowships, Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians, with their approximately 100,000 congregations have no Christian schools. People who would be earnest Christians still entrust their uneducated children year after year throughout the week to the non-religious state schools, in order to remember that only on Sundays Christian children are in Christian schools. One is satisfied with “Sunday Schools”. And this is considered in general not as an emergency – for where should a state of emergency also come with the full freedom of the Church and with rich earthly means, over which these fellowships mostly have? – but regarded as the right state of things. Among the Protestant sects only the Episcopalians and the German Unionists are a partial exception. Also not all who would be Lutherans have Christians schools. In the General Synod and the General Council, with the exception of the Swedish Augustana Synod, one usually has no Christian school, although it is recognized that there are more exceptions to the rule in the Council than in the General Synod.

How could it come to this miserable condition? Generally speaking: the great mass of Christians in America has fared as some pagan peoples of ancient and modern times. If certain gross sins were public and in fashion a long time among the heathen, then the natural conscience ultimately was drowned out and one lost the feeling for sin. So also in Christian America the Christian conscience has been dulled by long practice regarding the lack of the Christian school. By the long, evil practice it has reached the point that only very rarely stimulates the feeling that the non-religious school may be an impertinence to the Christian Church. We inquire further into the sources that lie behind this abnormal condition as no doubt several factors here work together.

First of all, sectarian Christianity in this country almost without exception is the Arminian type. The very essence of Christianity, the Gospel, the doctrine of justification of a sinner by faith in the Gospel, retrogresses; however, an externally legalistic way, “to keep the commandments”, is pushed to the foreground as the real essence of Christianity. The specific distinction between nature and grace is blurred. Christianity often is regarded only as a higher morality that develops under a certain care of natural morality. So one can be satisfied with the non-religious public schools as long as “to do right” in inculcated in them. A chapter from the Bible is now read in the public schools even at the beginning of class, so one is easily persuaded that the public schools are still even a kind of Christian schools.

However, the main reason why one is content with public schools and basically looks at every congregational school as an “attack on our American institutions”, is yet another. The average American, not just the “natives” but in many cases also the “foreigner”, considers the establishment of “public schools” with the riches thrown out by state funds as the non plus ultra of political-social wisdom. Nevertheless, individual sober men always have warned, even from Anglo-American circles, about the overestimation of public schools, nevertheless the public school over time has become a kind of national idol in the country. The vast majority of American Christians have taken themselves captive to this trend and the obligation to establish and maintain Christian schools is allowed to move entirely out of sight.

We Lutheran Christians, by God’s grace, do not want to be carried away by this trend, but remain mindful of our Christian duty. We are not enemies and opponents of the non-religious state school. We allow them their domain, in all due respect. Non-religious state schools are schools for non-religious people. There are enough non-religious people in America. To be sure, the duty does not rest primarily with the state, but with the parents to ensure instruction of their children. As befits natural law, the parents first feed and clothe their children, so obviously it is also according to natural law that parents first have to provide for the instruction of their children.

However, the state, if experience teaches that many parents otherwise would not meet or could not meet their responsibility, may come to the rescue, that it builds, maintains, and makes available schools to them at its own expense. The state also may tax its citizens for this purpose and Christians among its citizens will refuse least to pay these taxes. The state has an interest in ensuring that its future citizens are equipped with a certain amount of knowledge. So we recognize the relative necessity of public schools and render these schools their value in their field.

We Lutheran Christians will not also attempt to make the state schools Christian. We distinguish ourselves in this respect from both the papal Church as well as the sects. The papal Church in our country works toward the goal to make popish schools into state schools. The Archbishop of Ireland even submitted this plan quite bluntly last year at a meeting of public school teachers. Even most sectarian preachers envision it to this day as ideal to make our public schools Christian in their sense. Only recently prominent sectarian preachers were gathered somewhere in the east in order to cut a deal about a Christian religion which could be introduced in the public schools. It is precisely the character of both the papal sects, as well as the Reformed sects, to mix church and state. However, sober Lutheran Christians distinguish sharply between church and state. The state has nothing to do with the spreading and preserving of the Christian faith. So also schools that the state establishes, maintains, and controls should not teach the Christian faith. When the state tries to establish such schools, it then pushes things that are not commanded to it, and the result will be oppression and tyranny of conscience. Therefore Lutheran Christians advocate for non-religious state schools, if state schools may be necessary.

They themselves certainly cannot be satisfied for their children with the non-religious state schools. Before their eyes is the commandment of God: You fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord. The congregational school grows out of this commandment of God. Indeed, the Christian educating of children is also primarily a task of Christian parents, but the Christian congregation also has to take care that they do not interfere in the rights of parents. If individual Christian parents can and want to keep the educating of their children solely in their hands, so the congregation should not want to turn this into a sin for them.

As it is now, as Luther already mentioned, most parents have neither time nor skill for the necessary instruction of their children, so Christian congregational schools become a necessity. The Christian congregational school belongs under existing circumstances to the means by which Christians follow the commandment of God to educate their children in a Christian manner. And since this is a global command, that is, concerning all Christians on the entire earth, it also binds the Christians of America. That currently even Christians in our country call the establishing and preserving of congregational schools “un-American” is a terrible delusion. We do not want to get caught up in this delusion, but seek to remove it for our part through our contrary witness.

In short, we do not wish to make our congregational schools suspect or even let them slip out of our hands because of the accusations made against them. We wish instead, by God’s grace, to cherish congregational schools as one of the finest features of our church. Only then can we fulfill the duty imposed upon us by God under existing circumstances to raise up our children in the discipline and admonition of the Lord. Only then will our children be formed in the pure doctrine of the Word of God, in order that they can defend themselves against unbelief and all sorts of heresy. Only with the help of congregational schools will the Church of the Reformation in this country gain firm footing and healthy growth; because if the sects without a congregational school increase significantly, then it must be remembered that they disregard from the outset the purity and unity in doctrine required in God’s Word. Finally, we also need the congregational schools in order for the Church to evangelize to the ends of the earth. May God bless our congregational schools!

Franz Pieper, Forward to the 1891 Volume of Lehre und Wehre

 Translated by Rev. David M. Juhl and Mr. Kenneth Howes

Franz A.O. Pieper

We Lutheran Christians Will Not Attempt to Make the State Schools Christian

We [Missourians] are an anomaly here in America, for which we scarcely find an example in other countries. Wherever the Christian Church is also merely a small force, there it also presses for Christian schools. Everywhere you can see where there is still a somewhat Christian understanding that the Christian school belongs to the Christian church. If Christian missions wish to assert themselves and gain a foothold in a country, then they set their attention from the outset on the establishing and maintaining of Christian schools. Americans missions are no exception. They maintain in Africa, Asia, and wherever they work especially the Christian school with particular zeal.

But things are different in America itself. Although the Christian Church is a power in this country, yes, although there is almost no country on Earth where the Christian Church exerts such an influence on public life as in the United States of America, we believe that we are still faced with the astonishing fact that the vast majority of Protestant Christians have no religious schools and will know nothing of Christian Schools. Even the greatest number of sectarian fellowships, Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians, with their approximately 100,000 congregations have no Christian schools. People who would be earnest Christians still entrust their uneducated children year after year throughout the week to the non-religious state schools, in order to remember that only on Sundays Christian children are in Christian schools. One is satisfied with “Sunday Schools”. And this is considered in general not as an emergency – for where should a state of emergency also come with the full freedom of the Church and with rich earthly means, over which these fellowships mostly have? – but regarded as the right state of things. Among the Protestant sects only the Episcopalians and the German Unionists [Evangelical Synod] are a partial exception. Also not all who would be Lutherans have Christians schools. In the General Synod and the General Council, with the exception of the Swedish Augustana Synod, one usually has no Christian school, although it is recognized that there are more exceptions to the rule in the Council than in the General Synod.

How could it come to this miserable condition? Generally speaking: the great mass of Christians in America has fared as some pagan peoples of ancient and modern times. If certain gross sins were public and in fashion a long time among the heathen, then the natural conscience ultimately was drowned out and one lost the feeling for sin. So also in Christian America the Christian conscience has been dulled by long practice regarding the lack of the Christian school. By the long, evil practice it has reached the point that only very rarely stimulates the feeling that the non-religious school may be an impertinence to the Christian Church. We inquire further into the sources that lie behind this abnormal condition as no doubt several factors here work together.

First of all, sectarian Christianity in this country almost without exception is the Arminian type. The very essence of Christianity, the Gospel, the doctrine of justification of a sinner by faith in the Gospel, retrogresses; however, an externally legalistic way, “to keep the commandments”, is pushed to the foreground as the real essence of Christianity. The specific distinction between nature and grace is blurred. Christianity often is regarded only as a higher morality that develops under a certain care of natural morality. So one can be satisfied with the non-religious public schools as long as “to do right” in inculcated in them. A chapter from the Bible is now read in the public schools even at the beginning of class, so one is easily persuaded that the public schools are still even a kind of Christian schools.

However, the main reason why one is content with public schools and basically looks at every congregational school as an “attack on our American institutions”, is yet another. The average American, not just the “natives” but in many cases also the “foreigner”, considers the establishment of “public schools” with the riches thrown out by state funds as the non plus ultra of political-social wisdom. Nevertheless, individual sober men always have warned, even from Anglo-American circles, about the overestimation of public schools, nevertheless the public school over time has become a kind of national idol in the country. The vast majority of American Christians have taken themselves captive to this trend and the obligation to establish and maintain Christian schools is allowed to move entirely out of sight.

We Lutheran Christians, by God’s grace, do not want to be carried away by this trend, but remain mindful of our Christian duty. We are not enemies and opponents of the non-religious state school. We allow them their domain, in all due respect. Non-religious state schools are schools for non-religious people. There are enough non-religious people in America. To be sure, the duty does not rest primarily with the state, but with the parents to ensure instruction of their children. As befits natural law, the parents first feed and clothe their children, so obviously it is also according to natural law that parents first have to provide for the instruction of their children.

However, the state, if experience teaches that many parents otherwise would not meet or could not meet their responsibility, may come to the rescue, that it builds, maintains, and makes available schools to them at its own expense. The state also may tax its citizens for this purpose and Christians among its citizens will refuse least to pay these taxes. The state has an interest in ensuring that its future citizens are equipped with a certain amount of knowledge. So we recognize the relative necessity of public schools and render these schools their value in their field.

We Lutheran Christians will not also attempt to make the state schools Christian. We distinguish ourselves in this respect from both the papal Church as well as the sects. The papal Church in our country works toward the goal to make popish schools into state schools. The Archbishop of Ireland even submitted this plan quite bluntly last year at a meeting of public school teachers. Even most sectarian preachers envision it to this day as ideal to make our public schools Christian in their sense. Only recently prominent sectarian preachers were gathered somewhere in the east in order to cut a deal about a Christian religion which could be introduced in the public schools. It is precisely the character of both the papal sects, as well as the Reformed sects, to mix church and state. However, sober Lutheran Christians distinguish sharply between church and state. The state has nothing to do with the spreading and preserving of the Christian faith. So also schools that the state establishes, maintains, and controls should not teach the Christian faith. When the state tries to establish such schools, it then pushes things that are not commanded to it, and the result will be oppression and tyranny of conscience. Therefore Lutheran Christians advocate for non-religious state schools, if state schools may be necessary.

They themselves certainly cannot be satisfied for their children with the non-religious state schools. Before their eyes is the commandment of God: You fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord. The congregational school grows out of this commandment of God. Indeed, the Christian educating of children is also primarily a task of Christian parents, but the Christian congregation also has to take care that they do not interfere in the rights of parents. If individual Christian parents can and want to keep the educating of their children solely in their hands, so the congregation should not want to turn this into a sin for them.

As it is now, as Luther already mentioned, most parents have neither time nor skill for the necessary instruction of their children, so Christian congregational schools become a necessity. The Christian congregational school belongs under existing circumstances to the means by which Christians follow the commandment of God to educate their children in a Christian manner. And since this is a global command, that is, concerning all Christians on the entire earth, it also binds the Christians of America. That currently even Christians in our country call the establishing and preserving of congregational schools “un-American” is a terrible delusion. We do not want to get caught up in this delusion, but seek to remove it for our part through our contrary witness.

In short, we do not wish to make our congregational schools suspect or even let them slip out of our hands because of the accusations made against them. We wish instead, by God’s grace, to cherish congregational schools as one of the finest features of our church. Only then can we fulfill the duty imposed upon us by God under existing circumstances to raise up our children in the discipline and admonition of the Lord. Only then will our children be formed in the pure doctrine of the Word of God, in order that they can defend themselves against unbelief and all sorts of heresy. Only with the help of congregational schools will the Church of the Reformation in this country gain firm footing and healthy growth; because if the sects without a congregational school increase significantly, then it must be remembered that they disregard from the outset the purity and unity in doctrine required in God’s Word. Finally, we also need the congregational schools in order for the Church to evangelize to the ends of the earth. May God bless our congregational schools!

– Franz Pieper, Forward to the 1891 Volume of “Lehre und Wehre”. Credit is given to Mr. Ken Howes for his assistance in helping me smooth out the rough places in this translation.